Also posted to Summitpost here
North Ridge, IV+, 16 pitches
In June I was pretty busy showing parents around the nearby mountains, going to the various salt mines and “Sound of Music” tours that us Americans just have to do. But the visit to Berchtesgaden was especially frustrating for the mountaineer in me. Sitting on a patio above the Koeningsee, looking across at the Watzmann, I longed to burst away and race up as fast as possible (in my case, not very fast). Had anyone given the slightest signal of wanting a nap, or a lazy day reading books I would have pounced at the chance to visit the high rocks! Alas - we all had too good a time to allow such things, so it was with deep “mountaineer frustration” that I planned a day trip to the Wilder Kaiser with Josef. The Predigtstuhl (or, Preacher’s Pulpit) had a long (16 pitches), relatively easy (IV+) North Ridge that seemed like a perfect intro. Plus, a small but delightfully exposed ridge climb was next door on the Hintere Goinger Halt (III+). As a reward for being efficient, we could climb that too!
Kris and I had dinner on the roof Saturday night, where I consumed almost all the fried chicken, then I kissed her goodbye for the drive to the Kaisergebirge. Josef and I decided to sleep at the trailhead so we could start at dawn, thus reducing chances of afternoon thunderstorm problems on the route. The blackness of looming mountains and the sound of rushing water sent us to sleep.
“4:30 am, time to get up!”
I’ve been the butt of jokes ever since I simulated the beeping sound of a 3 am alarm clock with a series of sharp shrieks on a bivouac at Mount Baker. I was waking us up early against a mental worry about softening snow, but attempting to shift the blame to a malfunctioning alarm clock. But Josef is an early morning guy, so I had no need of such hijinks today. We quickly ate a bite, gathered our gear and took off to the gentle snores of fellow car campers. After only a short walk, the Predigtstuhl reared it’s severe head, soon enflamed by the morning sun.
We walked past an imposing sweep of rock called the “Steinere Rinne.” Our trail double-backed to enter it from a traversing ledge several hundred feet up. This natural wonder is made of the Predigtstuhl on the left, and the Fleischbank (literally, “meat bank”) on the right, and a steep rocky barren in between. The way was protected by cables and sometimes consisted of blasted ledges or footsteps. Meanwhile the summits seem to overhang as they gradually surround you. As the early birds in the canyon, we had it to ourselves, and soon we were hunting for the start of our route.
Two hours after leaving the car Josef gave the first “on belay” and sent me off in a series of easy chimneys which made a good warm up. We went for several pitches on II/III- (about 5.0-5.4 YDS) ground, listening to our voices echo against the stupendous walls of the Fleischbank. After a time we scrambled up to the ridge crest and set a belay for the first crux pitch (IV+).
Both imposing and exciting, the “Matejak” traverse encouraged us to venture left on a blank wall with a hopeful rusty piton. I felt carefully for holds. “Why is everything polished around here when it gets difficult?” Josef responded with a philosophical shrug. Why make bones over the obvious? I clipped the piton, more as a kind of “kissing the blarney stone” gesture than out of any real faith, and committed myself upward in uncertain, shallow cracks. A good nut placement did wonders for my ability, and soon I and the rock were finding each other more likeable. Solid cracks and nice incut handholds were everywhere despite the high angle. I crabbed rightward above Josef, continuing up to a bolted belay station. “Ah…civilization!”
An attempt to combine with the next pitch was foiled by a stuck rope, so after Josef delicately made the traverse he continued up on polished flakes right, up and back left to a station. Somewhere in here a glider improbably flew beneath us. I was speechless. Another steep pitch of friendly cracks with a “sting in the tail” final move, then a long traverse to the right got us to scrambling terrain below a massive gully. We coiled the ropes and travelled together, testing the somewhat looser holds here and trying not to knock any rocks off. During the traverse, we had knocked one down, and the echoing and booming in the “Steinere Rinne” made us cringe. Unfortunately this route oversees the Rinne for hundreds of meters. Everyone should wear a helmet in there!
After the scrambling, more good pitches led up chimneys to the ridge, then spectacular open terrain on the broad crest. This was nice as you are usually “hemmed-in” by various chimneys nearby. We laughed and joked about what we’d do on the summit. “I am going to harrange the people of the valley from the Pulpit!” I enthused. “Perhaps they will quail in terror,” I added thoughtfully. Josef, shaking his head, led out across a saddle, down then up via an improbable ramp to a belay pasted on the vertical headwall. He’d led us to the scary part.
We didn’t understand it, of course. “The Oppelband: a very airy traverse, blah, blah, give me the rack.” But soon my stomach turned a flip-flop as I realized what was happening. An unpleasant bulge forced me to lie down and hug a greasy lip of rock into which only one leg and arm could be secure in. The upper lip was almost closed, and overhanging, pushing my body away and forcing a horrible, unwanted contemplation of the abyss: the Steinere Rinne far below, a few ant-like figures moving oblivious to my horrified gaze! As I inched forward, my pack butted against the upper lip, pushing me out even more. My right leg pawed uselessly at the more-than-vertical wall below me. My left hand scrabbled for purchase among the few poor polished handholds in the shallow mouth. Falling was a real possibility. Rarely is the need for balance and poise so often combined with the need for brutal thrutching technique. The two concepts don’t go together!
Enough jawing, I encourage everyone to experience it :-).
A little pale, I wanly belayed Josef across, who also emerged a bit queasy. For the rest of the day our conversations began like “If that was IV+, then [words to the effect that nothing anyone sees or says can be trusted].” Josef gracefully led the final steep chimney, and another rope length led easily to the summit.
Once there I had little to say to the masses in the valleys. I trailed off with some good advice about getting plenty of sleep and the dangers of internet gambling. The Oppelband had shaken me!
Josef pointed out the Hintere Goinger Halt behind us, now somewhat crowded with parties. We’d had our chosen route to ourselves which was wonderful, and now we scrambled down to a little niche between the middle and main summits of Predigtstuhl to make some rappels. Three double rope rappels got us down to scrambling terrain nicely, but we had the problem of being chased by another party who knocked some rocks on us. We both got several sharp pebbles on the helmet, and I was smacked by a slightly larger rock on the back when I bent to coil a rope. When we heard rocks we tried to “live” under our helmets, especially bringing the hands in to the chest. “Just don’t look up!” said Josef.
Finally we got away, and were wearing tennis shoes on the trail. “What should we do now?” I enquired. “It’s only 2 pm, we did great!” “Well, I think we can go home happy!” said Josef. “Oh…” I said. “But…”
One of my worst qualities as a mountaineer is that I can never be satisfied with a day unless it’s nearly dark. I expounded on the need for full training days, the joy of one more easy climb to “top off” the hard one, the feeling of pride engendered by a second summit, the…oh well you get the picture. Anyway, finally I convinced Josef to join me and for that I owe him…big time. Because, what I didn’t already say is that he already did this route one week ago! Big. Time.
So we scrambled up to the Predigtstuhlscharte via a pleasant marked chimney to where the route begins. I had been thinking this was a good ridge to simul-climb, weaving among the towers and clipping pitons as we go, but Josef pointed out that we had plenty of time and no need to hurry. So with the added security of constant fixed belays, he (and boy I wished I joined him) did the climb in comfortable boots and socks. I had failed to cut my toenails, and was already beginning to fear for the pain on the hike down! We commenced climbing the ridge, enjoying the clean slabs, great holds and scenic views. This climb was a lot like the West Ridge of Forbidden back in Washington…just without the ugly gully approach (but also without the scenic glaciers). Great for beginners because all the moves are easy, but enjoyable for old-hands too because of the amazing exposure.
After several pitches we were at the top, sharing the summit with a few birds and people. Views to the east were blocked by a cloud sulking in the eastern valley. But the Fleischbank, Totenkirchl and other imposing summits were on display. It was 4:30 pm. “I guess we can head home now,” I mused. “You sure you don’t want another one?” said Josef sardonically. That and my toenails on the hike down would be my punishment for greediness!
A big thanks again to Josef, and to the weather for treating us well.
We climbed Predigtstuhl Nordkante with this topo for guidance. We made the recommended right variation start to avoid a loose chimney. It was a good variation on solid rock. In general, the whole route features bolted belay stances, and occasional pitons along the way. We brought a rack of 10 nuts, 6 cams, and plenty of slings, rarely placing much gear except for the Matejak Traverse and Double Cracks pitch just above, where several cams and nuts were handy.
Though it was a warm day, we were sometimes chilly in the shade which dominates the lower 3/4 of the route.
One guidebook cites a time of 4 1/2 hours from the start to the summit. We took from 7 am to 12:30 pm, so we were an hour over. I think the shorter guidebook time assumes liberal simul-climbing on the lower five pitches which could go as two, and again on pitches 9-12 on the topo, probably one long pitch. It is possible because those two blocks go in a straight line, following a continous seam or ridge. Being new to the route we were extra cautious, as a routefinding mistake could be costly.
Overall, the rock was very solid. As usual in alpine terrain, test your holds carefully to avoid nasty surprises.
The rappels in the Botzongkamin are straightforward but exposed to rockfall danger. A single rope will work. It is probably worth the extra effort to go over the true summit of Predigtstuhl, and down to the Predigtstuhlscharte. Really, it might take you about the same time to get down and would be more asthetic. </i>